Midwest Environmental Advocates is a nonprofit environmental law center that works for healthy water, air, land and government for this generation and the next. We believe that every citizen has the potential to make a difference.

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Meet Anita, one of the residents of Lake Mills, WI working for clean air

Jul 30, 2015

Life in Lake Mills was the best of both worlds

When Anita and her husband moved to Lake Mills, WI in 2001, it was the best of both worlds.

“We got to build a home in the country, but still be close to work and the highway we use to visit our favorite cities. The small community looked so nice. It was a great place to be.”

By 2006, things began to change. What was once a more familiar “farm fresh” air turned into something different. A poultry CAFO company and a related manure processing company’s production activities began to have a very noticeable impact on their quality of air.

“Those of us who live downwind from the land where hundreds of thousands of chickens are raised and their manure dried and turned into fertilizer noticed it wasn’t just the odor that changed. It was the magnitude of it.”

More chickens, more problems

Before the chicken CAFO and manure processing production ramped up, Anita enjoyed spending time outside. Like many new homeowners, she tackled garden and landscaping projects. When spring came, she was excited to enjoy the outdoors in the warmer months.

“The Glacial Drumlin bike trail runs near where we live and I enjoyed running outside. But I remember the first bad air day. I went for a run on the trail. I got out quite a ways and then the chemical-ammonia smell from the CAFO really hit me. And I still had to get back home. I was running to get exercise for my health, but the air was so bad I felt sick.”

The air impacts everyone in Lake Mills

The more Anita began to talk to her friends and neighbors about how the air quality changed, the more ways she learned how the poultry and manure processing operation impacted them.

“I heard that local businesses – especially the ones that catered to tourists or recreation – were getting complaints about the smell. It was worse for any business that has employees that work outside. It’s not just unpleasant. We wonder what chemicals are in the air.”

Anita knew it was difficult for members of her town to speak out. Unity and community pride meant not making things difficult for a major employer, for a company trying to turn waste into a resource, for your friends’ jobs. But the air quality concerns brought up too many health questions and long-time residents felt powerless to improve things.

Citizens pulling together

A small group of committed citizens began sharing information about ways they thought they could make a difference in their community’s air quality and have their concerns heard. Citizens for a Better Environment Lake Mills sent surveys to local businesses, gathered written comments and allowed anonymous responses. They met with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to open a line of communication between the agency and citizens who needed a place to report and track bad air days. They learned how to collect objective information about air quality problems.

Without these coordinated efforts, residents might not have been ready for the next step. Due to issues raised by the DNR following site visits and air and water test results, Unlimited Renewables, LLC had to apply for a new air permit this year. Citizens knew it would be a time to push for better air quality monitoring and more modern technology to control the odor problems and emissions.

A hearing was held on May 8 and Midwest Environmental Advocates submitted comments on the draft air permit for Unlimited Renewables, LLC, the manure processing facility. On August 15*, the DNR is expected to issue their decision on the permit renewal and Lake Mills residents are hoping the agency will incorporate their concerns.

“Ours is a great community with a strong spirit of pride,” Anita said. “I’m committed to helping Lake Mills continue to be known for its nice beaches, cool bike trail, and clean lake.”



* Update - the DNR granted an extention to Unlimited Renewables' permit schedule to allow the company to meet with Daybreak Foods to gather more information about a repopulation plan after the nearby facility had to manage an outbreak of the H5N2 avian influenza virus earlier this spring. The UR permit process has been extended until September 15.

/ tagged: agriculture, air